Research conducted by Global Witness has shed light on the disturbingly frequent incidents of violence against environmental activists. The report named Deadly Environment has noted 908 deaths between 2002 to 2013 in 35 countries around the world in relation to persons defending environmental or land rights. The most common causes being opposition to land grabs, mining operations, hydroelectric operations and illegal logging. This figure is only slightly less than the number of journalists killed over the same period.
Rates of accountability for these crimes are extremely low. In the cases reported between 2002 and 2013 only 10 people were tried and convicted of the murder of the activists. Around 1% of the actual killings. The report notes that "a lack of systematic monitoring or awareness of the growing threat to environmental and land activists is enabling killings and a wide range of other abuses, while national governments and judicial systems are regularly failing to protect their citizens from harm." This suggests not only a lack of accountability but high levels of complicity of government institutions in the incidents in not pursuing incidents to a lawful end. The perpetrators may be said to be acting with a high level of impunity as they are being allowed to carry out their actions without fear of recourse to justice, an incredibly forceful deterrent for environmental activists.
Furthermore the report has severe limitations in its scope as its states that ´because of the live, under-recognised nature of this problem, an exhaustive global analysis of the situation is not possible.´ Key regions such as Central Africa, where there are ongoing environmental disputes have thus been left out due to a lack of reliable reporting. It is thus highly likely that the actual number of deaths is higher, while it is extremely difficult to accurately report and quantify the level of violence and intimidation used against activists.
Examples of mass non-violent protest can be found, such as the recent global Climate March taking place in over 150 countries around the world. In highly visible incidents such as these there is no overt violence, yet arrests are still reported. The violence which is occurring is primarily in the regions facing the changes head on. The report has uncovered that the people most vulnerable and most likely to be targeted are those without a strong political voice, particularly indigenous groups. In the fight to preserve natural habitat and land rights voiceless people are being brutalised and intimidated by rapacious foreign companies, often backed by governments, in what could be described as a hidden wave of colonialism. It is a situaton which is becoming increasingly strained as resources diminish and our world is emptied of exploitable resources.
In recent years there has been a worrying increase in the number of incidents of overt and covert violence and intimidation against environmental protesters, the fight to preserve the environment stability of the Earth is one which has become similar to a covert war. It is not a war in the traditional sense, it has not been declared but the hallmarks are there. Often brutal force is being used to eliminate resistance to economic expansion. many of these incidences go unreported by governments who are often directly implicated in the incidents. When challenging vast profits and vested interests there is always a danger of provoking violence, it is essential that more work is done to protect the rights of individuals and groups who are facing the threat of losing their lands, their livelihoods and even their lives when standing up to these powers. Attention needs to be focussed upon the unjust methods of intimidation used against activists in both the developing and the developed world. At the high-level climate talks in Lima there was no mention of the problem, it is an issue that all governments are in some way implicated in as they seek to suppress and protect their own vested interests and those of their financiers. The first step in protecting the rights of those threatened people is bringing this problem to the forefront of the political agenda and ensuring that it is no longer a war being conducted in the shadows.